There are two types of sleepers in this world: those who understand the necessity of getting sufficient sleep and attempt to schedule ample time for nighttime rest, and those who intellectually understand this necessity, but unfortunately find sleep and college to be mutually exclusive. We all either are or know people of the latter breed. They sit in SciLi crushing Red Bulls while diligently working away all night at old problem sets and class notes. They go to bar night, return to their room at 3 a.m., and drunkenly command Siri to wake them up in five hours. Heroically, they enter class the next morning with a Chai Charger-fueled determination and do miraculously okay, or even well, on the test…every time.
While we may not explicitly endorse these habits, there is something admirable—something undeniably badass—about this ability to evade sleep and still seem unimpaired. This appreciation for sleep evasion is a testament to the influence of the modern sleep paradox: We are more knowledgeable and aware than ever of the power and benefits of sleep, yet we are also persistently resistant to putting in the necessary time to get a good night’s sleep.
The media are saturated with anti-sleep propaganda; our culture seems to revel in just how little sleep those traditionally viewed as successful need. Investment bankers in movies like “The Wolf of Wall Street” or the appropriately named “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” snort coke and take Adderall like candy, because who needs sleep when you’re making millions? Programmers and CIA technology operatives are constantly shown sipping black coffee, their pale, gaunt faces illuminated only by rows of code on brightly lit screens. Wiz Khalifa sings about “partying all night, no sleep,” and Lil Wayne wisely tells us, “Life is the bitch, and death is her sister, sleep is the cousin, what a fuckin’ family picture.” In our modern lives of constant texting, persistent multitasking, and social survival of the busiest, sleep has become the enemy.
As an educated and informed student body, most of us, I assume, are aware of the many benefits of sleep. Conventional wisdom not only tells us that the general population should get 8-10 hours of sleep per night, but also informs us that sleep is especially crucial to health in our particular age group. Sleep research has consistently found an impressive array of benefits from adequate sleep, including: lowered risk of high blood pressure, depression, and obesity, as well as increased ability in decision making, focus, memory, willpower and athletic performance. If we are aware and accepting of the scientific conclusion that a lack of sleep is ultimately detrimental to both physical and mental well-being, why do we continue to marginalize sleep?
Perhaps this marginalization of sleep is due to our existence in a society that tends to privilege shamelessly speed and efficiency over quality. Instead of searching for the most pleasing alternative, we have begun to fulfill our most basic needs by rationally calculating the easiest and quickest method of attainment. If we are hungry, we text in our orders to Summies; thirsty, get a soda from the vending machine; in need of affection, swipe right on Tinder. Yet, unlike these other basic needs which can be easily satisfied by a tap, click, or text, getting enough sleep requires a non-negotiable time commitment. We are willing to accept the small opportunity costs of each of the latter choices: In texting Summies we sacrifice taste, in getting a soda we sacrifice health, in matching on Tinder we sacrifice personality compatibility. Perhaps the opportunity costs of sleeping are just too extreme; the social, school work, or Netflix time seems simply too vital to justify missing for adequate REM cycles.
Additionally, although most of us understand the consequences that will inevitably come from a lack of sleep, we nonetheless convince ourselves that we can excel without the necessary eight hours a night. The false sense that the rules don’t apply to us (shown in claims such as, “Bro, I play FIFA ’til 4 and then go to my 9 a.m. and I’m fine,” or “I’m exhausted but I’ll just have another coffee and be good”) is partially do to a psychological bias called comparative optimism. This theory suggests that we tend to view ourselves as less likely than others to experience the negative effects of a certain behavior. We consistently overestimate our own ability to evade the consequences that are, in reality, inescapable.
While there are certainly people who may have a superior capacity to perform without adequate rest, no human on Earth can continue to properly function when perpetually sleep deprived. So, while melatonin may not be Wesleyan students’ drug of choice, in the name of physical health and mental sanity, perhaps it deserves a chance.
Solomon is a member of the class of 2018.